In the academic year 1956-1957, I was a visiting teacher at Harvard University. Administratively, I was a member of the Government Department (i.e. Political Administration). However, in terms of working I was a teacher at Center for Middle Eastern Studies that had newly been established by the university to be headed by Sir Hamilton Gibb who was previously a teacher of Arabic at London University ( I had attended two courses with him, one in Arabic language and the other in Islamic organizations (1935-1936). After that he moved to Oxford University. In 1947 I met him again in England. Later a friendship grew between us during his visits to Beirut where I was a teacher at the American University there and during my visits to him in Oxford. I had taught two courses one for the undergraduates and one for the graduates. In both cases I had two students who would later assume public duties. The first is Karim Khan who had to leave Harvard when his Grandfather Aga Khan III died stipulating in his will that the great leader of the Ismaili Sect has chosen the young (Prince) Karim to succeed him; Aga Khan IV. That year Prince Karim did not return to Harvard but I knew later that he went back and finished his studies. (I met Prince Karim in Beirut when he visited the American University in 1967 or 1986)
The graduate student at the studies center was Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan the uncle of Prince Karim. He had graduated from Harvard in 1954 and continued to do research related to the Middle East. In addition to its general historical importance, the region is where Ismailism originated. In fact there are still villages and towns in Syria inhabited by Ismaili communities (such as Salamieh in the Province of Hama)
I have known in Prince Sadruddin three traits that led me to see in this young man a bright future in public affairs. First, he takes everything, no matter what it is, seriously and does not leave out any detail without following it to make sure he has reached the limit if not the objective (because historical matters have areas that are necessarily absent and different). Secondly, he is very punctual and respects his appointments precisely. And because I have grown up like that since I was a student at the teachers' school in Jerusalem in (1921-1924) I have seen in this an evidence of taking things seriously and this is the way to success. Thirdly, he is truthful in all he says and does. In addition I have seen a behavior that is consistent with the name and the family and natural modesty (sine we are from a people that ascend rightly or wrongly with a title). On this occasion I would add that his nephew Prince Karim would behave in the class room and during lectures like any other student. He would not show off or pretend.
On most occasions, our graduate students would sit in small circles of not more than four people. My style, especially at graduate level, was that students would work originally and I take the role of the facilitator, either for clarification or correction. Therefore those classes would have their own taste in addition to training students on research.
Of course I do not remember what topics we discussed or spoke about because after four decades of academic teaching I am not expected to remember that. But the important thing was that Prince Sadruddin would choose, when students had the choice, topics that require a great deal of efforts and he would exert efforts towards proficiency. I do not mean to imply that others were behind or lazy but he was the example.
In addition to those regular meetings, there was a room for special gatherings to talk about every possible topic. He was well rounded and he had great interest in one topic: the oppressed human being. How to improve his/her situation.
Prince Sadruddin left Harvard when his father died in Switzerland and he was late to return. However he later returned to continue his work. I returned to Beirut in the summer of 1957. I did not see Sadruddin after that. We, however, exchanged letters twice as far as I remember.
Nevertheless I followed up the man's march. I had a lot of hopes for him and from him. A lot has been achieved at his hands. Most of it was in the public's service. The first work he did was within UNESCO.
He later worked for three years as assistant to the High Commissioner for Refugees before managing the whole Commission for over 12 years (1965-1977) when he retired upon his request. He was 33 when starting the position, the youngest to take that position and he was the longest serving commissioner ever.
We should remember that the Bangladesh issue (1971) had put the weight of over 10 million refugees over the shoulder of the organization, and the tensions in Burundi (1972) that has thrown hundreds of thousands of those in Tanzania. Also the issue of the deportees from Uganda during the days of Idi Ameen who counted in tens of thousands. In addition to the Palestinian refugees who are spread in the Arab region and others and others.
The human being, especially the "smashed" human being, was the concern of the Prince. He never came short. He was the one who said " If there is worse than being a refugee is to be a refugee without a shelter" After giving up his post working with refugees, Prince Sadruddin continued his work through donation in works related to human rights and public assistance.
He nominated himself twice for the position of secretary-general of the United Nation but the Russian Vito prevented him from reaching that position twice.
During the last years of his life, Prince Sadrudding spent his time, allocated money for environment and art issues. Thus the man has lived a useful life full of good, help, compassion for the weak and the poor who are called -in the contemporary dictionary- refugees.
Prince Sadruddin was born in Paris in 1933 and died in Boston on May 12, 2003 of 70 years that were full of good, blessing on those he worked for.
When I read the news, I was touched and in my current age I have lost so many loved ones, friends and students. In this case there is only memory and recollections. I am lucky that I have remembered a life full of work for the smashed human being.
* a Writer and historian. An honorary professor at American University of Beirut.